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Wild Card weekend is officially in the bag. For the most part, it was filled with lopsided victories with the Eagles and Steelers looking completely outmatched by the second seeded Buccaneers and Chiefs respectively. That said, the weekend still provided one “wild” game and that was between the sixth seed 49ers and 3rd seed Cowboys. The only road team to beat their hosts nearly beat themselves. In the end, however, it was Dallas’s 14 penalties and poor coaching that ultimately doomed them against the 49ers. Other than that, it was business as usual for the home teams. We now move to the best weekend of playoff football: the Divisional round. Let’s get to the matchups.
Saturday, Jan. 22nd (2 Games)
BENGALS (11-7) AT TITANS (12-5) — 4:30pm ET CBS
Favorite: Tennessee (-3.5) O/U: 47
The Bengals beat the visiting Las Vegas Raiders 26-19, winning their first playoff game in thirty-one years. The drought is officially over and now Joe Burrow must travel to face the first-seeded Titans. Tennessee gets superstar running back Derrick Henry back, just in time. There’s a chance, however, that Henry’s foot injury could affect his game, leading Mike Vrabel to use him more sparingly than usual. Henry has clearly stayed in shape during his fracture rehab but you don’t return from a four month absence and just come back and dominate. A foot injury generally hinders a back’s ability to cut and accelerate through opposing defenses. The mere fact that Henry will be on the field is an advantage for the Titans, however. It forces the Bengals to game plan for him and adjust their defensive alignments, even if he’s being used as a decoy. The Titans will also have their hands full on defense as the Bengals are no regular season fluke (looking at you, Cardinals). Joe Burrow has matured into a top ten quarterback in the league and this is only his sophomore year. And that’s despite coming off both an ACL and MCL injury a year ago. The inspired drafting of Ja’Marr Chase, a former LSU teammate of Joe’s, has proven a stroke of genius as the two have continued to build their rapport week after week. Add in a solid running game lead by Joe Mixon and the Bengals have the perfect offensive trio to challenge the Titans’ opportunistic defense.
DFS Player to Watch: Julio Jones
The Titan’s #2 receiver has a significantly better matchup than WR1, A.J. Brown, and Jones is just coming off a solid 9-target-one-TD performance. At just $4,700 (DraftKings) Jones has favorable potential to 3x his salary. That’s especially true if Tennessee falls behind to Burrow’s offense, and/or Derek Henry isn’t extensively used.
49ERS (11-7) AT PACKERS (13-4) — 8:15pm ET FOX
Favorite: Green Bay (-6) O/U: 47.5
The 49ers stunned the Cowboys in Arlington last week. Their running game pounded the Cowboys defense into submission and their defense, even without Nick Bosa for two quarters and Fred Warner down the final stretch, stifled the Cowboys’ number one ranked offense. Now San Fran hits the road for a divisional round rematch with the number one seeded Green Bay Packers. It’s the ninth playoff meeting between these two storied franchises. As it stands the playoff wins are split 4-4 so the victor of this game will earn the head to head tiebreaker going forward. The Packers are strong favorites for this game and they should be. They’ll not only be playing on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field but they’re also healthier on both sides of the ball, have just about the best QBs in football and boast a shut-down pass defense. That said, the 49ers still present the Packers with a worthy challenge. Their passing game is graded #1 in the NFL by PFF and their aggressive pass rush keeps QBs on edge. And San Fran’s running game, ranked 7th in yards per game, has an edge over Green Bay’s middling run defense. The matchup is far from a gimme for the Packers but if they can provide Rodgers with enough time to pass, Green Bay should be hosting the NFC Championship game next weekend.
DFS Player to Watch: George Kittle
Green Bay has flustered receivers and 49ers’ QB Jimmy G is going to be harassed all night. He’ll be looking for short passing plays more often, and that’s saying a lot for a guy whose bottom quartile in intended air yards. Kittle, a guy who plays 95% of snaps, will be just the solution. San Fran hasn’t used him much, which means he won’t be as obvious on Green Bay’s radar. And of all ball-catching positions, the Packers are worst at defend tight ends.
Sunday, Jan. 23rd (2 Games)
RAMS (13-5) AT BUCCANEERS (14-4) — 3:00pm ET NBC
Favorite: Tampa Bay (-3) O/U: 48.5
The Rams vanquished the Cardinals, their NFC West rivals, with ease on Monday night. Now they travel east to Florida to challenge the reigning Super Bowl champs. These two teams met back in week 3 in Los Angeles with the Rams handily beating the Bucs 34-24. And the game wasn’t even that close. Neither team is the same team they were back in week 3. And for the Bucs that’s a bad thing. Offensively Tampa is in a bit of a bind. They’ve lost Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown for the year, one to injury the other due to megalomania. And their running back situation is far from what it was this time last year—Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones are both nursing injuries. A casualty of Tampa’s win against the Eagles was All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs and Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen suffering ankle injuries. They may not be 100% for this one. If the Buccaneers are to win, they’ll need Brady to be at his absolute best because the Rams defense, lead by Aaron Donald up front and Jalen Ramsey in the secondary, will torment him if Brady’s offensive line can’t hold up. The game will be in Tampa Bay this time but that should do little to affect the Rams’ high octane passing attack. The Bucs’ fate will largely hinge on their coverage unit, graded 2nd best in football by PFF. Fun fact: Sean McVay is 2-1 against Bruce Arians and those two victories both came against Brady—at home and on the road. It’s never wise to count Tom Brady out in a playoff game but the fact remains that the Rams will present him and the rest of the Buccaneers with their stiffest test of the season.
DFS Player to Watch: Leonard Fournette (RB)
Playoff Lenny (hamstring) is back from Injured Reserve and Ronald Jones II (ankle) is still out. The Rams run defense is #1 in the league, but its pass defense is weakest against running backs—and Fournette has averaged 7.5 targets in his last four games. With Brady under constant A “pressure” in NFL parlance is when the quarterback is hurried, hit or sacked. Defenses that pressure the opposing QB more than average allow fewer points and win more games, for obvious reasons. QBs under pressure throw away the ball more and make more mistakes (e.g., throw... More from the Rams front, Fournette’s ball catching prowess could act as a relief valve in the wings. That’s in addition to Lenny’s 100-yard rushing potential on the ground.
BILLS (12-6) AT CHIEFS (13-5) — 6:30pm ET CBS
Favorite: Kansas City (-2) O/U: 54.5
This is the clash of the titans that the NFL was hoping we’d see come playoffs. It’s the NFL equivalent of Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier and we all get to sit back and savor it on Sunday night. Both teams are operating at an high level offensively (with KC ranking #2 and BUF #3 in PPG over the last 4 games). Consider that against the Patriots last week the Bills became the first team in NFL postseason history to score a touchdown on every single one of their offensive possessions, minus them taking a knee on their final possession. That was against a Bill Belichick defense in the blistering cold and wind of Orchard park, New York. Keep in mind that the Bills went into Kansas City back in October and throttled the Chiefs in Arrowhead 38-20. We’ve said this before, previous matchups typically don’t matter in the playoffs (as both teams usually adjust their game plans against each other regardless). But the Bills have the added motivation of avenging their AFC Championship loss last year to these very same Chiefs in the very same stadium. If Mahomes is anything less than great, the Bills have the defense and firepower to turn off his lights in a hurry. Winning playoff games in Arrowhead isn’t easy but if any team is equipped to do it, it’s Buffalo. Mahomes vs Allen could well be the AFC’s next great quarterback rivalry and this second installment should be a thriller.
DFS Player to Watch: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB)
Buffalo simply out-matches KC when it comes to defending against the pass. The Chiefs may have to rely more on a shorter passing game, and with RB Darrel Williams nursing an injured toe, CEH could be the recipient of added targets. With four week’s “rest”, a full week of unrestricted practice, and at only $5,200, Edwards-Helaire is a relative bargain.
About the Author: Steven A. Cravens has been a professional sports better and analyst for over a decade. As a former Fox Sports NFL researcher and data logger, he specialized in player profiling and performance statistics.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all fantasy stats are based on point per reception (Point per reception This is a DFS scoring system that awards offensive players (e.g., WR, RB and TE) one point for each reception. This is the standard scoring method of DraftKings. More) scoring.